Before Facebook and MySpace entered into the online group-building arena, the web-based service Meetup.com had already created a robust online platform to make it easy for like-minded individuals to set-up a “meetup” — real-world gatherings, meetings, events, recreation activities, etc. As the term “meetup” has become a common term for gatherings of all sorts by any online tribe, the online tool, Meetup.com, has continued to flourish despite lots of competitors entering the event-organizing space.
We, of course, are interested specifically in how small business owners are using the site to both organize meetups and seek meetups to attend for networking or professional purposes. And so we were glad when New York City web designer Sylvia Adams mentioned Meetup.com following our request for users of SmallBusiness.com to share how something is helping them accomplish an objective related to their business (see the form at the bottom of the page)
How It Helps Us: Every business is different. Solutions don’t come in one-size-fits-all. For that reason, we’ve started the feature, “How it Helps Us” in which we interview small business owners who have found success using certain products, approaches, channels or ideas. If you have a favorite method, approach or product that is helpful to you and that you can share with others the specific ways in which you use it, scroll down to the bottom of this page and fill out the form.
Sylvia Adams has been working as a designer for over 16 years. For the past five years, she has been working independently and developing her own web design company. While she’s done well landing clients other ways than attending meetups, she admits she’s seen quite a boost in business since she started attending them–either directly or through referrals. Wanting to know more about her experience with meetups and Meetup.com, we interviewed her recently.
How do you go about finding a meetup to attend?
I search for meetups in my location on MeetUp.com. I look for groups that are formed by people or businesses in my niche. For me, that’s small businesses, start-ups and the travel & hospitality industry.
How do you decide which meetups to attend?
If they are small in number (like less than 100 people attending), I will go. I consider those “the good ones” as opposed to the ones with 400 people that are in a bar somewhere. Those meetups are so big and loud, you can’t hear anyone and you end-up losing your voice after 20 minutes anyway.
At the smaller ones, I can actually strike up a conversation, exchange cards or emails and then take it from there. I promote my workshops too, if I think a person would be a good fit for it. Certain meetups are good for referral partners, others for actual clients.
Are there any etiquette issues one should know before attending a meetup?
Yes. Lots. But they are primarily common sense and common courtesy ones. Here are a few I practice.
- Don’t approach it like “speed dating”. I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve seen someone darting around the room from person to person, just handing out their business cards like fliers for the local pizza shop.
- Make sure you ask what the other person does, just don’t make that the first question. It just looks like you’re sizing them up to see if you should bother with them at all, which is quite dismissive and a little rude.
- Break the ice a little first with something like, “Have you been to this meetup before?” or find something “quirky” in the room to comment on.
What usually happens at meetups?
People are just basically “hanging-out.” If there is one, you may go over to the bar, get a drink and start-up a conversation. People aren’t necessarily looking to “close a deal,” as so much as they are looking for “new” connections that could expand their base. If you seem to have a good rapport with someone, it will most likely lead to another meeting on another date to talk more in detail about business.
What should someone bring with them to a meetup?
Lots of business cards, your phone (some people don’t have business cards, they just put everyone in their phone), gum/mints (just in case) and an extra $20 bucks. The latter is in case you do start having a serious conversation with someone and want to offer to buy them a drink. (Or, perhaps for a taxi ride home.)
Some people may see these meetups as a place to go exchange business cards. Is there a better way to view meetups than just “another networking opportunity”?
Yes. I can’t stress it enough: You want to go to meetups that have been organized for a specific niche. You want to be smart about it and spend your time with people who are turning their schedules upside-down to get there, just like you. Time is money, and the person who’s willing to make time to go to these meetups is hungry for business. You don’t want to just collect a bunch of business cards, you want to make a connection with the right people for your business.
There are all sorts of networking opportunities in lots of cities these days — everyone from the Chamber of Commerce to local business media are hosting them. What’s different about those and the types of “grassroots,” self-organizing gatherings you find on Meetup.com?
I think most people enjoy the meetups because they are less formal and you do get a different crowd of people there. You get a wide variety of business owners and a lot of third party vendors. Now you’ll always have a health coach, financial advisor or insurance salesman at any networking event, but I think meetups appeal to people who would never even consider going to a Chamber of Commerce meeting. Those are the new referral sources, new sources of business I want to meet.
Have you ever discovered someone that you’re now a customer of? Or vice versa?
I once landed a client who represents commercial artists at a meetup. We struck up a conversation–she had this bright green hat on and I asked her if she was a hat designer. She told me she represented illustrators and asked me what I did. I told her I was a web designer and she nearly jumped out of her skin. She was in dire need of one, but she was going to Europe the following day. I took her card, she took mine and I called her up 3 weeks later and I signed her up as a client. If I had never attended the meetup, I doubt we would have ever found one-another. I’ve also found some good referral sources for my business at meetups.
Would you recommend other small business owners using MeetUp.com and attending local meetups?
Absolutely. More and more people are going into business for themselves. There are small businesses popping-up everywhere. And I think in order for small businesses like mine to survive and compete, you have to share your story with as many people as possible. Meetups a great way to find new business and new referral partners.
Feature image: A NYC tech meetup organized via Meetup.com. Illustration by SmallBusiness.com from a photo by Dan Melinger via
How has something helped you?
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